Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In the Author Spotlight: Margaret West

I'm excited to welcome back Margaret West, author of the fantastic Heart of a Warrior, to the Author Spotlight. Margaret has some great writing tips for us.

Born in England, Margaret moved to the Kent countryside five years ago to get away from the busy life in London. She married with two grown up children and has worked in various fields of work. She is a Clairknowing medium, Angel Therapist, Crystal Therapist, Parapsychologist and Psychic Development tutor.

She’s been writing over 20 years in various fields. Academic modules, Novels, short stories, magazine columns and Blue Mountain Sympathy card range. Her main love is writing Romance and Paranormals novels, incorporating her spiritual experiences, into her books.

You can find Margaret at, and

Writing Dialogue

If I could write a book on the amount of questions that I’ve been asked with regards to dialogue – it would be an epic!

Realistic dialogue doesn’t always come easily to everyone. But I can’t tell you how important it is. Dialogue advances a story and fleshes out the characters while providing a break from straight exposition. But, nothing pulls the reader out of a story faster than bad dialogue. It takes time to develop a good technique, but here are a few guidelines I use that might help.

Listen to how people talk. Don’t become a stalker or anything, lol eavesdrop and scribble down phrases you like. The right words can bring a character to life. Likewise, the wrong word/phrase can destroy the reader’s belief in the character.

For instance, it’s unlikely that a builder is going to use the word “goodness me” or that a solicitor would say “blimey." Dialogue should read like real speech. But, in saying that, real speech has words and sounds that would be distracting if included on a page. New writers sometimes think that including words like “uh” and “oh” makes their dialogue sound more realistic. The truth is, these kinds of extraneous words look unprofessional. Alfred Hitchcock once wrote that a good story was “life, with the dull parts taken out.” It’s good to keep this in mind.

Now comes the tricky part. Cut words and phrases out that don’t serve the conversation’s purpose. What I mean by that is, any dialogue should move the story forward while bringing your characters to life. If it doesn’t, cut it out altogether.

The mistake I noticed a lot is that writers sometimes provide too much information at once through dialogue. It should never be obvious that you’re communicating information; otherwise you run the risk of info dumping. Give no character more than three uninterrupted sentences at once. You can trust the reader to remember details from earlier in the story. Make sure you break up dialogue with action, because physical details help to break up the words on the page.

Tag lines can be the bane of writers' lives to write and read. I am the worst culprit of all! Don’t try too hard to vary them. Veering too much beyond “he said/she said” draws attention to the tags. Readers tend to skim over them anyway. If you write “interjected,” or “he sighed,” you’ve now drawn the reader out of the action you’re trying to create. If your dialogue is working, you won’t have to say any of these words in the tag line.

Most of all, the most important thing of all is to punctuate dialogue correctly. Nothing, to an editor/publisher/agent is more distracting than a writer who doesn’t know how to use punctuation. A polished MS is no good if it’s covered in punctuation errors.

I hope this information helps. I don’t always remember to live by my own rules. But I try to!

Heart of a Warrior
A tale of two very different cultures colliding. Can love really conquer all?
When Belinda arrives fresh from England, at her father’s store on the edge of a Navajo reservation, she is faced with not only the news her father is ill in hospital, but the store is being run by Jez Lansdowne, a man she hates and distrusts. Until she can find out why Jez is suddenly her father’s new partner, Belinda is forced to live in Chief Yuma’s storage hut, next to the store.
Yuma is annoyed the fiery English woman is living on his land, as the Res is soon closing to outsiders. They clash, but a deeper emotion grows into a love that makes Yuma question his culture and traditions.

Here's an excerpt:
Belinda ran full pelt towards the sound of the waterfall. Just when she thought she was almost there, her feet left the ground and she screamed in angry frustration. Muscular arms encased her like tight bands of steel, and she clawed at them knowing in her heart that this man was way too strong for her to escape from.
“Let me go,” she screamed, scratching and kicking with every bit of strength she possessed. “Get off me.” It took a few moments for her to register the soft, masculine voice in her ear.
“Belinda, it’s all right. You’re safe now—with friends. No-one’s going to hurt you.”
Belinda continued to struggle. Friends! She didn’t have any of them in this godforsaken country. A small sob pushed through her swollen lips, as her strength began to wane.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cate Masters said...

Welcome Margaret! Thanks so much for being my guest today and sharing your dialog tips! I know I can always use good tips. :)

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hello, Margaret,

All good suggestions. One problem I've noticed in my own dialogue is over-using the characters names:

"I can't deny it. I want you, John."
"Of course you do, Mary. Everyone does."

Or substituting nicknames or endearments like "baby", "boy", whatever. I always end up having to take out about half!

Another comment, about speech tags. If it's obvious, you can leave them out sometimes. Since each character's speech should begin a new paragraph, the identity of the speaker is often obvious.


Unknown said...

Funny you should write about this today Margaret. That is the exact problem I'm working on at the moment. I'm trying to get a backstory in with dialogue, yet not do an info dump. And it's sooo hard.
Very wise advice that I intend to follow. Thank you for reminding me.

Maggie Dove said...

Thanks for the tips, Margaret! Loved your post today.


Helen Hardt said...

Great to meet you, Margaret! I love Native American romances. Great dialogue tips, too!

Margaret West said...

Pwew, I thought I'd missed this as I was not on line yesterday. Thanks for having me cate, and thanks for the comments everyone. I have just found out the word 'was' takes over my books lol My goal in life is to hit delete whenever I see it!!

Dee Julian said...

Sorry I'm late! Great interview, Cate and Margaret! Oddly enough, I've never had any problem with dialogue though I have had problems with going on and on and on. I have to watch that. Maybe it's just me, but one of my pet peeves when judging contests is that some writers interrupt the dialogue much too often with two or three unnecessary paragrahs of narrative or introspection. This bugs me to no end because it takes me out of the action. Especially if one character has asked the other a question, and it's out there in space lingering. By the time I get around to reading the answer, I've forgotton the question, and I have to go back and reread it. Very annoying!

Cate Masters said...

Welcome Dee! Good point. I tend to be guilty of that delay. Sometimes it's unavoidable, but other times I can write around it.